Sonal Shah and the VHP


by Shariq
9th December, 2008 at 11:24 am    

Sonal Shah is part of the Obama transition team. She has even been tipped by some for a cabinet position. However ennis at Sepia Mutiny has been doing an excellent job in reporting her links to the radical VHP.

To be honest, I’m in two minds about this. On the one hand she’s got a stellar resume and seems like the type of person who would be a natural fit in the Obama administration. Also after what Obama went through, it seems a bit hypocritical to be targeting someone based on her associations.

On the other hand she was a member of the governing council of the VHP America for three years. It doesn’t seem plausible that someone who is as upto date with current affairs doesn’t know about the VHP’s radical nature, which has manifested itself in anti-Christian pogroms as well as the Gujarat riots.

As Ruchira in the 3 quarks comments thread said, Rahm Emmanuel apologised for his father’s anti-arab remarks and ‘ perhaps Ms Shah too can do the same rather than just issue carefully worded statements about her “innocent” associations with the VHP.’


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  1. VwV2008

    new post: Sonal Shah and the VHP: Sonal Shah is part of the Obama transition team. She has even been ti.. http://tinyurl.com/65tzot




  1. Amrit — on 9th December, 2008 at 12:22 pm  

    I was wondering when I’d see some mention of this on PP!

    Further reading for anyone who’s interested:

    http://www.france24.com/en/20081115-united-states-politics-obama-indian-slammed-with-extremist-link-accusations

  2. aji — on 9th December, 2008 at 2:05 pm  

    There’s a difference between one’s father uttering anti-Arab remarks and someone having links to a group that has actually conducted pogroms against religious minorities in India. Would a member of the KKK be allowed a place in the US cabinet today?

    Her appointment to the US cabinet would be a shot in the arm for Hindu fascists, both in the US and India. Well done to the progressive members of the Indian diaspora for exposing Sonal Shah’s fascist links.

  3. Sunny — on 9th December, 2008 at 2:05 pm  

    oh dear oh dear! VHP governing council. Not very progressive I’m afraid!

  4. Leon — on 9th December, 2008 at 3:18 pm  

    Jesus, kinda shows up a flaw in the Obama judgment and vetting procedure doesn’t it!?

  5. Golam Murtaza — on 9th December, 2008 at 4:37 pm  

    Maybe this appointment has been allowed to slip through because bigots who happen to be of Hindu origin aren’t seen as posing any serious threat to America. Unlike bigots of Muslim origin who are a threat.

  6. Golam Murtaza — on 9th December, 2008 at 6:54 pm  

    Incidentally, I’m not accusing Sonal Shah of bigotry (don’t know enough about her to make that kind of judgement) I’m talking about the people she is linked to.

    Just so that’s clear.

  7. Vikrant — on 9th December, 2008 at 11:05 pm  

    Shariq, i’d suggest you’d be well off checking your stories before peddling sensationalist libel. Sonal Shah was NEVER a part of VHP America, she was a coordinator for Indicorps which apparently has nothing to do with VHP. Her parents do seem to have ties with VHP or something but then thats plain guilt by association. The Indian news media articles you quote are apparently based on poor researched source. See Sepia Mutiny’s (PP’s “in-laws”) take on this:

    http://www.sepiamutiny.com/sepia/archives/005510.html

  8. Shamit — on 9th December, 2008 at 11:53 pm  

    Her past relationship and membership with VHP – America cannot be denied. It has been admitted both by the VHP and herself.

    In her defense, she was not a part of the VHP America governing body and the only position she held with them was co-ordinator for relief efforts for a particular project.

    She is not going to the Justice Department or the State Department and her credentials on all other aspects seem to be perfect for the job — so why not give her a chance would be my suggestion

  9. shariq — on 10th December, 2008 at 5:00 am  

    Vikrant, the link you posted was from a post by amardeep on Nov 10. I read that as well and was convinced by it, which is why I didn’t post anything at the time.

    The link in my post is from a Sepia Mutiny post by Ennis on Dec 7. It now appears that she was a member of the governing council of VHP-A for 3 years.

    http://www.sepiamutiny.com/sepia/archives/005549.html#more

    Look at the 3 quarks post as well. There is a definitely something to be suspicious about and I think Sonal Shah needs to make a statement denouncing the activities of the VHP to help end this story.

    http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2008/11/no-vhp-links-ou.html

  10. aji — on 10th December, 2008 at 6:26 am  

    In her defense, she was not a part of the VHP America governing body and the only position she held with them was co-ordinator for relief efforts for a particular project.

    The fact that she admitted to being co-ordinator for relief work should be proof enough of her extremist links because Hindutva groups, like the VHP, were heavily involved in the earthquake relief work, appropriating overseas funds for their own communal agenda. As a co-ordinator I doubt she was unaware of how the funds were being used.

    A report here describes how the RSS and its allies used the funds:

    According to the report, around £2 million raised from the British public on grounds of the Gujarat earthquake alone went to fund the expansion of sangh parivar organisations in India. The overwhelming bulk of funds raised by Sewa International UK from the British public for Orissa Cyclone relief also went to RSS fronts. They were used for building sectarian sangh parivar schools, even though the British public was never informed of this intention, and for building the RSS networks all over the country. The organisations funded include not merely those ideologically inclined towards Hindutva, but also groups directly involved in large-scale violence and the promotion of hatred.

    Both the Gujarat earthquake (2001) and the Orissa cyclone (1999) demonstrate a pattern in which a natural, human tragedy is used to enable the dramatic expansion of RSS institutions through the use of overseas funds

    Needless to say, there are serious allegations that the RSS discriminated against Muslims and dalits in earthquake relief, and that the RSS and its allies attacked and intimidated secular NGOs undertaking relief work. Earthquake relief work by RSS allies was accompanied by violence and hatred against Christians.

    Based on its findings AWAAZ recommends that the charitable status of HSS and other associated charities should be withdrawn and public sector funding and political patronage of these organisations should end, and that politicians, public and voluntary sector organisations, religious and community groups publicly dissociate from the HSS, the VHP UK and their allied organizations. It also proposes to initiate an enquiry by the British Parliament into these concerns.

  11. Vikrant — on 10th December, 2008 at 7:43 am  

    Shariq,

    Ok i concede that my points were based on an outdated information. Speaking of violence, India is a chaotic country in general. Mob violence is a an occasional part of life in remote Indian backwaters like Orrisa. There are deeper socio-economic reasons for the orgy of violence that Orrisa witnessed. Hindtuva nutjobs, Maoists and jealous proselytisation further compund the situation.

    From my personal experience, Hindutva organisations and their namesakes outside India are largely non-vocal about the whole anti-Muslim aspect of their ideology. Like she was on their council waay back in 1998, when VHP wasn’t as militant as it is now. I know it is perfectly possible to be a part of Hindutva-associated organisation without realising the true nature of the ideology, especially if one grew outside India. I was forced by my parents to attend HSS shakas when in lived in Leicester. Largely for cultural/Hindi language instruction. For much of my time there I was blissfully unaware of its RSS connections of anti-Islamic stance. I ultimately ended up turning an atheist and leaving HSS (i wrote an article here on 2 years ago i think).

    She has made a statement condemning Hindutva, shes no longer a part of, she isnt in any position where she might be affecting foreign or domestic policy. And also for what its worth there isnt any evidence that VHP-A has been responsible for violence in India. Here it remains a legal charitable organsation. Shes highly competent and doesnt sound like a American version of Uma Bharti to me!

    Its desis pull each others legs as usual.

  12. shariq_g — on 10th December, 2008 at 9:03 am  

    Vikrant, I take your point as well. As I said in the post, I was in two minds about whether to be critical of her or not.

    Like most political messes, I think the problem wasn’t so much her association but the fact that she wasn’t open about it from the beginning. Lets see what happens now as Obama hasn’t been averse to appointing people who make mistakes (Eric Holder, Joe Biden)

    In any case, a lot of stuff about her affecting US visa policy towards Lalit Modi was overblown. She’s only working on the transition team and hasn’t been appointed anywhere yet. She wasnt considered the frontrunner for the energy job so if she isn’t appointed we shouldn’t be too suspicious.

  13. aji — on 10th December, 2008 at 3:29 pm  

    Sonal Shah was no teenager when she was a serving member of the VHP-A; she was 33 years of age! As a member of the governing board for three years she would have been fully aware of the goals and objectives of the organisation.

    She has made a statement condemning Hindutva, shes no longer a part of, she isnt in any position where she might be affecting foreign or domestic policy.

    Even though Sonal now disassociates herself from the Sangh Parivar, the RSS is going to give her a public reception in Gujarat. Her father has close ties to the RSS and is an admirer of Modi. Her professedly non-partisan organisation, Indicorps, has listed the India Development and Relief Fund as one of its supporters. IDRF is a Sangh outfit.

    Maybe this appointment has been allowed to slip through because bigots who happen to be of Hindu origin aren’t seen as posing any serious threat to America.

    Her appointment shows that Hindutva terror hasn’t yet attracted the attention of many people in the west. The west is more concerned with Islamic terrorism right now because that affects them to a greater extent, but there’s no doubt Hindutva terror is increasing. Apart from the Gujarat and Orissa pogroms, Hindu groups are now thought to be behind the Malegaon and Samjhauta Express bomb blasts, which were earlier blamed on Islamic extremists.

    If Obama is really ‘progressive’ (I think that’s virtually impossible for any head of state), I hope he thinks twice about appointing her to his cabinet, however good her resume may be.

  14. GP — on 10th December, 2008 at 4:10 pm  

    Shariq,

    As a contemporary of Sonal’s I think it is important to recognize that until 2001 the availability of information was radically different from now – It wasn’t until 2002 and later, with the rise of the internet and new information/reporting that could be cataloged by it, that it became so apparent the types of things that VHP had gotten itself into. Before that, I’m sure information about VHP-India’s activities were available, but largely to people who were more active with issues related specifically to India. It was totally possible, because I was an example, to have no idea of the international context, at least not to a level that would have caused as much concern as it does today.

    Further, it seems that Sonal was not involved with the VHP in 2002 or later, so I’m not certain what it is that she needed to be open about. Surely, you would recognize that people cannot be responsible for what organizations do after they have left them? It is reasonable to only hold people to being accountable for the activities with which they were associated.

    Given my own involvement, I still don’t see why I need to volunteer to tell you how I was associated or how much I dislike what the VHP is involved with in India – it is irrelevant to who I am and what I do now, and it would sound cowardly for me put it out there unsolicited.

  15. Vikrant — on 10th December, 2008 at 4:23 pm  

    Her father has close ties to the RSS and is an admirer of Modi. Her professedly non-partisan organisation, Indicorps, has listed the India Development and Relief Fund as one of its supporters. IDRF is a Sangh outfit.

    It would be wrong to equate Hindutva with the myraid of Islamist millitants. BJP in India isn’t a one trick fundamentalist pony. It is a legimate vehicle for political expression in India. And Sangh Parivar arent the only ones using violence as political tool. I’m not justifying them, but as crass as it sounds they are no different than Akalis who beat up followers of a certain “deviant” Sikh sect in Punjab, or those RJP punters in Bihar, or even the Communist “cadre” who enforce state government decisions in Bengal, ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nandigram_SEZ_controversy ). Indian democracy is hopelessly chaotic. To look at Sangh Parivar without looking at the bigger Indian political picture isn’t very helpful.

    As for admiring Modi, Shah’s are Gujaratis. Modi for all his fundamentalism has delivered governance there apparently and millions of Gujaratis worship him. But i’d agree that doesnt justify him being not being prosecuted for the Gujarat riots.

  16. GP — on 10th December, 2008 at 4:25 pm  

    Aji,

    Seriously, you undermine your own point of concern for the rise of Hindutva by showing questionable logic:

    Whatever the reports say, do you think Sonal is responsible or even in control of what other people say or want to do for her? I’d be worried about the RSS reception, if there is one at all given the source being an unreliable Indian paper, only if she actually shows up (which I would seriously doubt that she would), and even then, I would first figure out what she says at something like that.

    IDRF may be a sangh outfit, but that does not make Indicorps one. IDRF has funded non-sangh outfits, even per the Campaign to Stop Funding Hate. Who else does Indicorps list? From what I can tell they have worked with many dozens of organizations almost many of whom would be considered left and anti-sangh (as most justice-oriented NGOs are), I think that is a better indicator than what you suggest for where Sonal and Indicorps stand.

    We have to be careful about how we construct arguments and and rely on information if we want the cause of identifying and extinguishing extremism to be taken seriously.

  17. aji — on 10th December, 2008 at 4:53 pm  

    My simple point is: why associate yourself with an organisation that has always been quite hard line? It was the VHP that started campaigning for Ram Janmabhoomi in the 80s, which eventually led to the destruction of Babri Masjid. Was Sonal completely unaware of that too? I don’t believe VHP-A is totally disconnected from VHP-India.

    I would say there has been an almost equal growth in Islamic and Hindu fundamentalism over the last decade or so in India, in parallel to one another. This is largely the fault of politicians because, instead of resisting to calls of extremists on both sides, they have generally appeased them. The result is the situation we have today.

    As for the Maoists, I think their main support base are the tribals and Dalits, who are treated poorly by landowners or chucked off their land by the state.

  18. s — on 10th December, 2008 at 6:46 pm  

    As for admiring Modi, Shah’s are Gujaratis. Modi for all his fundamentalism has delivered governance there apparently and millions of Gujaratis worship him. But i’d agree that doesnt justify him being not being prosecuted for the Gujarat riots Hitler was my Pandu and for that reason I admire him greatly, What bloody rubbish. And Sangh Parivar arent the only ones using violence as political tool. I’m not justifying them, but as crass as it sounds they are no different than Akalis who beat up followers of a certain “deviant” Sikh sect Can you please give accounts of massacres that were carried out by those you have mentioned. Yes there is poltical violence some can be jutified, some can not. The BJP/RSS/VHP are Facist outfits dont campare them with other minority reactionary forces.

  19. Sunny — on 11th December, 2008 at 4:32 am  

    BJP in India isn’t a one trick fundamentalist pony. It is a legimate vehicle for political expression in India.

    Sure, for the followers, but we know the kind of people who want to join the BJP… or worse – the VHP!

  20. shariq_g — on 11th December, 2008 at 6:02 am  

    I’ll say one thing. The BJP like it or not is a mainstream political party. To survive it can’t be too extremist because it has to preserve its coalition. It will go where the votes are.

    The VHP and the RSS I’m not so sure about. To be honest I’m not completely sure what the differences are between the two of them, so it would be helpful if someone would enlighten me.

  21. Balbir — on 11th December, 2008 at 10:31 am  

    the babri masjid was an un-used place of worship, was brought down yes but were there any fatalities or muslims killed in any part of the razing? no is your answer.

    you have to dig deep and do your objective research to look into the activities and what the likes of RSS stand for, not rely on the anti-hindu english print media of India which is controlled by evangelical anti Hindu forces.

  22. Balbir — on 13th December, 2008 at 2:44 pm  

    A majority of Indian media is owned by the very same corporates that control the Western media. Rupert Murdoch owns about 6 TV stations here. The Indian media is blatantly hostile to the RSS, BJP, VHP and all other Hindu Nationalist groups.

    It is because these Hindu Nationalists are dedicated to an India that is based on Indigenous traditions and the Indian way of life. Contrary to the media and Communists-Islamic-pseudo-secular propaganda machine’s claims these Hindus do not see themselves as a religious based group. They thus consider any Indian, regardless of their way of worship as Hindus. The fact is nearly all Indian Muslims and Christians have always been Indians. They merely changed their methods of worship and are thus considered as Muslim Hindus and Christian Hindus.

    This is evident from the fact that Naqvi, the Chairman of the BJP, the Hindu Nationalist Party is a Muslim. During the Gujarat riots, that are used as proof that the BJP pursues a genocidal anti-Muslim idealogy, the BJP Prime Minister of India, Vajpayee appointed a Muslim, Dr. Kalam as the President of India. Time magazine responded by declaring Vajpayee as a drunkard, unfit to rule such an important nation like India. The testimony of prime witnesses used to blame Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, for the riots, revealed that they were pressured and coerced by Teesta Setalvaad to lie in court. The case collapsed yet still the anti-traditionalists continue to point to these very claims that have been repudiated by the Muslim witnesses. When people depend on lies to make their case, one is wise to question their credibility.

    The Nanavati Commision, after years of investigation, has given a clean chit to the BJP administration.The only ‘proof’ used to discredit the BJP comes from its political enemies and the Pakistanis. If you want to accept that as proof go ahead. Yet if one believes it is unbiased they are only fooling themselves and throwing fairness and justice out the window. Another lie that is constantly bandied about is that the Sangh Parivar killed Gandhi. This is based on the fact that the assasin had been a member of the RSS 20 years earlier. He had also been a member of the Congress party yet none attempt to link the Congress party to the killing. In fact the RSS has repeatedly taken media outlets to court over these attempts at defamation and won every time. For those who discount this, being biased against the Indian judicial system, the UK courts also agreed that the RSS had nothing to do with the assasination of Gandhi. In fact the whole effort to tie the RSS to the crime is reminicent of the Cointelpro operations done against the American Indian Movement. AIM.

    As far as Indian Muslims and Christains are concerned, they are considered just as much Indian as any Hindu. The Sangh Parivar’s Rashtriya Muslim Manch is proof of this. This group is a dedicated group of Muslim Indian Nationalists. They recognize they are Indians first above and beyond any other identity. According to the Sangh leadership, the only authentic minority groups in India are the Parsis and Jews who migrated here from Iran and areas in West Asia .

  23. Shamit — on 13th December, 2008 at 2:56 pm  

    Then why the attacks on churches and rapes of nuns? The spin is nice Balbir but it still stinks.

    As far as Gujrat goes, there was clear evidence of administration being ordered to look the other way when rioters went amok. People were burnt alive — and police looked the other way. That is state sponsored genocide — And BJP was in power at the Centre and they should have imposed President’s rule.

    Whats this shit of Muslim Hindus and Christian Hindus? That’s the worst spin I have ever heard in my life.

    Who is the Sangh leadership to decide who are Indians and who are minorities and who gave them that authority to impose their will on other people?

    You sound like a moderate Taliban would sound in Afghanistan — get a life and don’t dare to imply the majority of hindus in the world are represented by VHP, RSS or any other organisations like that. And I know that’s the same in India.

  24. h — on 14th December, 2008 at 7:47 pm  

    Shariq: Thanks for covering this story. FYI: You can find more documentation of Sonal Shah’s links to the Sangh Parivar here.

    And, there is a list of some of the newspaper and blog coverage of the Sonal Shah issue at the same site.

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